You should be congratulated. While everyone has fear within them manifesting in a wide range of ways, it takes great courage to admit that you are afraid. It also takes great courage to address and face your fear. The fact that you’re reading this means you’ve taken a huge step toward overcoming fear.
While it it may seem like we can’t really avoid fear, the good news is that with a little change in perspective and some inner work, we can all overcome it.
Fear is a natural part of our biology as it helps us trigger adrenaline and survive in immediately threatening situations. For example, a lion is attacking, adrenaline kicks in so we can run really fast and climb a tree. This natural type of fear can be necessary.
However, where all of us humans seem to have gone astray in modern times is that our minds react as though many situations are immediately threatening in moments when they are not. This keeps our stress levels unnecessarily heightened, which taxes our emotional well-being and health.
This type of misguided fear underlies all of our emotional issues, and many times it is disguised as surface emotions like anger, sadness, frustration, jealousy, etc.
Below is an effective way to address and overcome fear and anxiety with meditation. I’m breaking this up into 3 approaches, which can be used together for the most powerful results.
This is mainly relevant for fearfulness about something that is not an immediate threat of injury or death, although it can be helpful for these types of threatening situations as well.
Don’t expect a quick fix. It takes time to find and overcome your fears, many of which are habitual, and because they are rooted in something that is part of human nature. Fear is not to be underestimated. However, I have found the following steps to be the most efficient and lasting approach for how to overcome fear.
The 3 powerful steps to overcome fear are:
- Step 1: Notice it.
- Step 2: Explore the reality of it.
- Step 3: Let it go.
You don’t necessarily have to do all of these steps, nor always do them in order, and a given step or sequence of steps may have more profound effect on you than another. This is the general progression, and you can find value in using these steps as guidance to be used as much as you want on your path to overcoming fearfulness and anxiety.
Let’s walk through each of these steps to give you an understanding of how to go about the process.
Step 1: Notice when you are fearful.
Sometimes fear can be obvious, and sometimes it’s not so obvious.
When it’s obvious, sometimes we are so caught up in being fearful that we can’t actually consciously notice that we are afraid and potentially have influence on the fear itself.
When it’s not obvious, we’re completely unaware of it, and therefore we can’t do anything about it. This happens more often than you might think, but here are a couple of approaches to help uncover those situations:
- Notice when you are experiencing any negative emotions, even if they are subtle or significant, and even if they seem unrelated to fear, as they are very likely rooted in fear (more on the roots themselves in Step 2)
- If you don’t feel completely fulfilled in a given moment, ask yourself honestly if there is fear within you right now. Ask yourself what you’re afraid of, and let the answer arise by being open to anything and allowing your mind to tell the truth.
Whether the occasion of fearfulness is obvious or not so obvious, it is important to build up your present moment awareness so that you can become aware of fear and anxiety as it arises. This can be done through mindfulness exercises and meditation, which you can learn more about on 4Existence and via other teachers.
As you develop the ability to notice when you are fearful in a given moment or in hindsight of a fearful situation or reaction, it will give you the opportunity to address the fear.
The next step in the process of overcoming fear after you have noticed it is to explore the reality of it.
Step 2: Explore the reality of fear.
- Physical Sensations of Fear
- Psychological Roots of Fear
- Your Identity In The Context Of Fear
Perspective #1: Physical Sensations of Fear
If you dig into the nature of fear a bit you will likely find that it is simply negative thought that produces uncomfortable and unwelcome physical sensations in the body. The sensations wouldn’t be there without the thoughts that produce them. Fearfulness and uncomfortable emotions are just body sensations in and of themselves. They can be attached to a thought or belief or an outside event in the moment, but in this common scenario of fearfulness nothing is physically harming you, and the emotion is just a sensation of discomfort that doesn’t have to be deemed bad or worse than not having it.
Exercise to Explore the Physical Sensations of Fear
A pretty powerful, yet simple exercise you can try while you meditate (and once you’re used to it, you can try it outside of meditation) is to become very aware of the body sensations of fearfulness. Notice where exactly in the body you are feeling the fear or anxiety (it may be in many places at once) and notice what it feels like.
When you notice fearfulness arise, focus on the physical sensations and ignore the content. Feel the sensations and notice that while they may be very uncomfortable, they can be allowed to be there and pass. For many fears, this exercise alone can be enough to release their grip and have them fade away.
Perspective #2: Psychological Roots of Fear
There is another approach that is very effective as a complement to what I just described above. It is more of a psychological approach, but it is most revealing when done from your clearest states of consciousness. While I think everyone can get value out of it, you have to determine your own emotional state and consider if the timing is right for you to do it.
The approach is basically to explore and see that all the negative surface emotions that people have, like anger, sadness, frustration, guilt, regret, annoyance, stress, etc all come from fear. When you follow any or all of these surface emotions to their roots you can see that the next layer is made up of fears like the fear of rejection, the fear of being alone, the fear of the loss of money / resources, etc. You can then see that this second layer of fears is rooted in a third layer of core existential fears that everyone has: the fear of death, the fear of the unknown, fear of permanent suffering, fear of non-existence, etc.
These core fears are the root of all the negative surface fears and explain all negative behavior of absolutely everyone. Most people just don’t realize this because it’s more convenient to block out and suppress existential fears. This is especially the case in societies where people are much more consistently removed from real hardship relative to other populations (current and in history), and being afraid is often looked at as a sign of weakness. This is why we often do things like cover their outward fear with anger, or disguise being afraid with words like “stress”.
Facing existential fears directly is by no means easy and I view it as more of a radical approach to working with fearfulness. I have spent a lot of time exploring these fears, and I know it definitely helps to understand and accept them, and simultaneously realize the futility in them, which helps you let them go or transcend them. However, if you don’t have a sort of radical attitude about it, then just disregard this as you’ll want to go the most natural pace that feels right for you. In that case, I think that these existential fears will naturally fade away over time by you orienting toward your conscious awareness, and by just noticing that fears are simply thoughts and physical sensations and your conscious awareness itself is not actually afraid.
Exercise to Explore the Psychological Roots of Fear
You can do this in meditation, or via journaling or stream-of-consciousness writing, but for some it may make sense to navigate this with someone skilled in psychology. Invite a given fear to arise in meditation, or simply just notice when a fear arises as you meditate or bring a memory of a recent fear into your meditation. If you want to start with small fears, take a negative emotion like anger. Think of a recent time you got angry and realize that the anger was actually a fearfulness because of its origin.
For example, if someone made you angry because they cut you off on the highway, you may have been afraid that you would be harmed or your car would have been damaged. Your angry reaction was rooted in the fear of being harmed, or the fear of losing money, or both.
Pretty much any negative emotion is rooted in fear. All fears are ultimately rooted in existential fears like the fear of death, non-existence, and the unknown. A couple of common path of root fears related to the car example above would be:
- Fear of… anger -> injury -> suffering -> death -> non-existence or the unknown
- Fear of… anger -> the loss of money -> rejection -> being alone -> suffering -> death -> non-existence or the unknown
As you follow the fears to their roots, note any beliefs attached to them and try to see if they are unequivocally true. When the root is in a false belief, it becomes easier to let go of it. Gently ask yourself questions about what makes the cause of the fear true in this moment. Sometimes simply knowing it isn’t true is enough to overcome it.
If a fear seems very true, for example the fear of death, your thinking about it may not be true. To explore the example of death a little bit, how do you know that death is something about which you should be afraid? How do you know that death is bad? Because you won’t exist? How to you honestly know you won’t exist? How do you know that non-existence is bad? How do you know that you won’t exist in a better form? If the fearfulness is more about the unknown aspects of death, then why are you afraid of something that you ultimately can’t do anything about? You are at the ultimate mercy of the universe, and you can’t control what it does. If you can’t control it and death is the ultimate direction you are going, doesn’t it make sense to let go and accept it so you can enjoy this time when you know you exist?
As you go through this process and ultimately get to existential fears, it can become very intense and difficult. You will need to face these fears and any possible outcome fully, and you will need to accept them with all of your being. This is a big part of how to overcome them.
Perspective #3: Your Identity In The Context Of Fear
I don’t want to discount the first two perspectives at all, as they are extremely powerful toward overcoming fearfulness and anxiety. However, this third perspective is a big one, and it can be used in conjunction with the first two to have amazing, lasting effects on shifting away from fearfulness. Here we go…
When the thoughts and physical sensations of fearfulness arise in you, they aren’t all there is to the story. What is aware of those thoughts and physical sensations? If you examine this question through your direct experience you will find that your consciousness or awareness is what is aware of them. The thoughts and sensations of fear arise in your awareness. If you need to understand this further out of lack of experience with this, take a look at How to Find Yourself Through Awareness of Awareness.
Notice that your awareness is not afraid at all, even when fear and the related uncomfortable emotions arise. Your awareness watches the fear and emotion patiently and without concern for harm. The awareness allows it to be there is completely unharmed by it. It does not feel the discomfort. Your body is what feels the discomfort, but the mind doesn’t have to care. It can let go of the need to be comfortable. It can take the lesson from what is aware of it and surrender to the fearfulness and discomfort.
To see this further, it can help to understand how fear creates a false identity.
How Fear Creates A False Identity
Fearful thoughts, as opposed to fearful action caused by immediate danger, are always about the future or the past projecting to the future. Your mind takes you away from the present moment, which allows the fear to falsely become your identity. You falsely experience yourself as something outside of what you are in the truth of the present moment.
In this way, fear is a structure of the mind that keeps you from taking the seat of your consciousness or awareness, which is only experienced directly in the present moment. Your awareness and the present moment are synonymous, and when you are embodied by your awareness in every moment, being afraid becomes insignificant and often nonexistent. Even if it is there, it no longer moves you or matters.
Fear creates an identity structure through the mind’s attachment. All psychological blocks to consciousness come from these attachments and fears.
A few practical examples of identity created by fearful attachments are:
- Strongly defending your identification with a political party and political positions because you’re fearful about what would happen without it.
- Strongly defending your identification occupation or family role because you fear what you would be without it.
- Overdoing your attention to your appearance because you’re afraid of what people will think of you without it.
Ultimately, the mind attaches because it fears its own impermanence. It fears its own impermanence because it lacks the knowledge of the nature and role of consciousness.
Once consciousness is fully realized as primary to what you are, the mind realizes that consciousness is not afraid of impermanence and it begins to let go. This letting go clears the way for consciousness to come forth and the fear of nonexistence is not present with consciousness itself. Realizing consciousness removes fearfulness from the mind, and removing it from the mind enables the realization of consciousness.
Another way to look at this identity creation through attachment is that you’re afraid to have what you don’t want, and you’re afraid to lose what you want to keep. You’re afraid that you will lose all the good stuff and keep all the bad stuff, and you want the opposite. You define the good that you want according to society and, more deeply, by the level of comfort, safety, and pleasure it gives you, and you align your identity with that. The bad that you don’t want is defined by the level of discomfort and pain it gives you emotionally and physically, and you try to keep that from imposing on your identity.
The mind will never accept pain and discomfort, but the consciousness within your experience already does by default. It doesn’t see it as good or bad and therefore it is not afraid of it existing or not existing. Pure letting go is fully accepting or surrendering to discomfort and pain. This allows consciousness to take the forefront of your experience, and the natural byproduct of this consciousness is the experience of deep peace. Consciousness itself is peace.
When you start to see that fear is simply made up of thoughts and uncomfortable sensations, and that your primary nature (i.e. your consciousness or awareness) is unfazed by the fearfulness and is far beyond it, you can allow it to be there whenever it needs to be there. This allowing and acceptance of the fearfulness will naturally begin to weaken it, as the habitual thoughts that produce them will be replaced by the “habitual experience” of your awareness.
Let go of the psychological blocks that create fear, and allow consciousness to take the forefront of your experience. Whichever is first doesn’t matter – they are both the same thing.
Exercise to Explore Your Identity In The Context Of Fear
Use the first exercise to notice the thoughts and body sensations associated with your fear. Notice that your consciousness or awareness is not the same as these thoughts and sensations. Notice that your awareness is what is aware of these sensations and thoughts, and it is much bigger than these sensations and thoughts. While this awareness is observing the sensations and thoughts, it can also be aware of other sensations in the body, including all sensory information coming from outside the body.
While the fear is there, the awareness can also be aware of the awareness itself and it can feel the presence and power of that awareness. The awareness can also notice how fearfulness becomes much less significant when the awareness is expanded and all inclusive instead of contracted and isolated to the fear and its related thoughts and body sensations. It can also notice that the awareness is constant, but fear is transitory and always has been, so the mind doesn’t have to also be afraid of the fearfulness sticking around.
When you are feeling fearful, it can help to ask the question “What is it in my experience that is afraid?” With this question, also ask “What is it that is aware of what is afraid?” These questions are not to be answered with words or thoughts, but experientially. You can actually feel that what is afraid is not substantial, and what is aware of what is afraid is a much fuller and more real “you” than than what is afraid.
Another thing you can add to this exercise that might help is pretending that your awareness is like a wise old sage. The sage sits and observes the thoughts that create the uncomfortable body sensations. Since this sage (your awareness) is so naturally patient, loving, compassionate, nonjudgemental, and simultaneously unfazed by the fearfulness, imagine what the sage might say about the fears you’re having. By doing this you can see that your awareness already accepts the fear even if your mind doesn’t.
Step 3: Let go of fear.
Observing your thoughts and fears as described in Step 2 helps you explore their nature to see that it is the mind that is scared, but your awareness is never scared. When you can see or experience that your awareness is your most primary and natural form of being, you can give your mind permission to let go of the fear. This letting go shifts your identity from the false identity of fearfulness to the fearless awareness that is most naturally you.
This letting go happens naturally when you earnestly explore the perspectives described in Step 2. However, you can also be proactive about letting go. Letting go is an act of allowing and acceptance. You can use your mind to honestly say to yourself that you accept the fear you have and you are willing to allow it to be there as long as it needs to be there, no matter its discomfort. There will be times when you have to endure more discomfort than you’d prefer, but with patience and persistence with the process described, you will notice that these occasions will be fewer and further between.
To clarify further, this is not about resisting fear or trying to make it go away. This mode of operating will only backfire. Instead, accepting it and seeing it for what it is in the context of your true nature can most certainly help whenever fearfulness arises. As this reality-based perspective deepens over time, your fearfulness will naturally fade away on its own without you having to try to make it stop.
Fear is Not Required For Action
An important point about fear to add is to know that it is not required for action. Most assume that they must be stressed or afraid because it is a signal to let them know that they should do something about the non-immediate subject of their fear. This adds to the structure of the false identity as this is not at all true. The thoughts “I am stressed” or “I need stress to be productive” are just additions to the false identity structure.
You can know with your mind and heart that you must take an action without being afraid about the possible outcomes. In fact, it gives you a better opportunity to succeed because the transcendence of fear by shifting from a fearful false identity to your true identity of pure awareness naturally brings a clarity of mind and enhancement of energy that result in maximized precision of action.
Don’t Believe It, Prove It
Don’t take my word for it. Start with a non-dangerous, low risk fear. Perhaps stress about a work project, or worries about things that must be done at home. Use the practices above over time to let go of it, and see that the related action that used to be driven and hampered by fearfulness will be clearer, more precise, and more successful than ever. You will also see over time that a deep peace will seem to grow within you. I say “seem to grow” because the peace has always been there, it’s just that the fear is now gradually going away to reveal it.
The fact that you are addressing your fear is a giant step toward overcoming it. With time and persistence, the 3 step process of noticing your fear, exploring it, and letting it go gives you an organized and powerful process to give you lasting freedom from fearfulness. Becoming aware of when you are afraid gives you the opportunity to more deeply explore the reality of your fearfulness and its relation to your identity, which ultimately gives you the ability to let it go. It’s important to know that you should not try to stop your fear, but that understanding it, allowing and accepting it, will lead to freedom from it. It’s also important to know that fear is not required for action, and when you begin to overcome it, you actually become much better equipped for optimal action. Do not take any of this solely through belief. Give it a try in a way that is not physically risky or dangerous, and through experience your confidence in the process will grow. With this growth you will find deepening inner peace and maximized potential.